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THANDI Maqubela’s thumbprint and palm print were on a piece of Glad Wrap that prosecutors allege was used to smother to death her acting-judge husband.
And DNA belonging to Western Cape High Court Acting Judge Patrick Maqubela was found on the same piece of plastic. This emerged in the Cape Town Labour Court, where Thandi and her co-accused, Vela Mabena, are on trial for murder.
Yesterday, the State shone the spotlight mostly on one piece of evidence collected at the acting judge’s Bantry Bay, Cape Town, flat – the plastic allegedly used to suffocate him.
He was found dead in the main bedroom of his flat on June 7, 2009, two days after he was allegedly killed.
Fingerprint expert Warrant Officer Barend Swanepoel was the first of two police witnesses to take the stand.
He testified that on June 11, 2009, he and his then commander, a Colonel Pretorius, recovered the piece of Glad Wrap in a bin in the main bedroom. It had been “all tangled up” and there was a medical sticker – which the paramedics had used on the acting judge – on top of it.
He took the plastic into evidence, as well as a roll of Glad Wrap found in the kitchen, for processing in the police laboratory.
This had not been the first time Swanepoel visited the flat that week. He had also been there a few days earlier, on June 8, 2009, when he’d done fingerprint investigations on several items: a small glass found on the dining room table, a bottle of whisky on the acting judge’s bedside table, and two mugs from the kitchen.
He’d returned on June 11 at the request of Pretorius.
Swanepoel testified that he found nine prints on the crumpled-up piece of plastic. Two of them belonged to Thandi – her right palm print and her right thumbprint.
Swanepoel said he had no doubt that the prints belonged to her.
The identities of the person or people who had left behind the other seven prints on the plastic were still “outstanding” because “no comparison could be made as yet”. He had also had a sample set of Mabena’s fingerprints, but none of the fingerprints collected at the flat could be linked to him.
Under cross-examination by Thandi’s defence lawyer, Marius Broeksma, Swanepoel acknowledged there was a possibility that the fingerprint could have been lodged on the plastic when it was still on the original Glad Wrap roll, an item he conceded was a common household product.
Swanepoel, however, also testified that no identifiable fingerprints had been found on the roll. Responding to another question by Broeksma, Swanepoel also indicated that he was aware that Thandi had stayed at the flat before and after he’d investigated it.
DNA analyst Warrant Officer Ridwaan Boltman was the second to take the stand yesterday, testifying that he had found a “mixture” of DNA results on the piece of plastic.
The plastic had also been triple-layered, or in other words, there were three layers of cling wrap of top of each other.
He had tested three swabs, all three of which had been used to swab the plastic. Only two had had sufficient DNA to obtain any results. The other two both had a mixture of DNA, containing the DNA of more than one person.
According to Boltman’s testimony, the first swab showed the following results:
l It contained the DNA of three or more people.
l The acting judge’s DNA, in the form of epithelial cells, was found on the swab.
l Thandi was excluded as a contributor to the DNA mixture.
l “Pieces” of Mabena’s DNA were found in the mixture, while others were absent. Consequently, there was “not enough to conclusively say” whether it was his DNA.
The second swab showed that:
l It had the DNA of a maximum of two people.
l The acting judge’s DNA, again from epithelial cells, was the most prominent in the mixture.
l The additional DNA was insufficient to include any other person.
Boltman said that in SA, the authorities needed to conduct tests that demonstrated 10 DNA profile matches. “If the person present has nine or less, you can’t include that person as a contributor,” he said.
Mabena’s DNA had seven profile matches out of the 10 required. Maqubela’s DNA had six matches in relation to the first swab and five matches in the second swab.
When Broeksma cross-examined Boltman, he accepted that they had also swabbed under the fingernails of the acting judge’s body and found “no evidence of female DNA”.
Broeksma then turned to Mabena’s DNA, asking Boltman whether it was “safe to say that it could be someone else’s DNA” as there were only seven profile matches.
“Yes,” replied Boltman.
l Although the trial is a Western Cape High Court matter, it is being held at the Cape Town Labour Court as several of Acting Judge Maqubela’s colleagues on the Bench are on the State’s list of witnesses.